Lifeboat tragedy remembered

First published in News Blackpool Citizen: Photograph of the Author by

The 120th anniversary of the RNLI's worst lifeboat disaster, in which 27 lifeboatmen died off the north west coast, will be commemorated this weekend.

Current lifeboat volunteers from Lytham St Annes, as well as RNLI supporters and local people, will gather at St Annes Parish Church for a special service on Sunday, at 10.30am, to honour the bravery and sacrifice of their forebears on December 9 and 10, 1886.

The tragedy claimed the lives of 27 lifeboat volunteers from St Annes and Southport who were attempting to rescue the crew of the German barque Mexico which had ran aground off Southport in a gale.

Three lifeboats took part in the heroic rescue attempt, with the Lytham lifeboat, Charles Biggs, saving 12 sailors from the Mexico. But a lifeboat from St Annes, the Laura Janet, was washed ashore the next day, her crew of 13 lost.

The Eliza Fernley lifeboat, from Southport, was capsized by heavy seas and 14 of her 16-strong crew drowned.

Frank Kilroy, Lytham St Annes RNLI lifeboat visits officer and an expert on the Mexico disaster, said: "Forty four men went out in atrocious conditions that night, rowing open lifeboats, to rescue 12 men. Twenty seven of them didn't come back. The aftermath of that tragedy had a lot of influence on the way the RNLI now fundraises to pay for its lifeboat service.

"Just like today's lifeboat crews, the men who drowned were all volunteers who didn't think twice about going out to help people in difficulty.

" Of course, the lifeboats and equipment used today are much more modern and provide the crews with more protection but the bravery and commitment of the crews is no different."

To coincide with the anniversary of the disaster, Lytham St Annes Civic Society is launching an appeal to raise £15,000 to pay for restoration work to four memorials to those who died in the Mexico disaster.

There's a chance to donate money at to refurbish the monument on St Annes Promenade, depicting the coxswain of the Laura Janet, the memorial at St Annes Parish Church as well as those at St Cuthbert's Church and Layton Cemetery, Blackpool.

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